The first weekend in May is always exciting as signs of new life burst all around, baseball season is in full swing, and I become an avid horse racing fan for about 4 minutes every year. The Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, and while I will do no research ahead of time, I’ll turn on the TV around 6 pm as they announce the field of horses, confidently select my winner, and passionately cheer them on for the next 2 minutes. Afterwards, after building up a nice little gloss of sweat, I will calmly turn off the TV and return next year.
Further, in the pantheon of sports movies that include live action, horse racing films are surprisingly not that terrible. The movie Seabiscuit chronicles the journey of a horse of the same name in 1938, and despite my horrible memory, I do remember one important aspect of the story. If Seabiscuit was in the lead approaching the final turn, he eventually would slow down and lose because he couldn’t see that other horses were challenging him, but if he was behind or beside another horse at the final turn, he would kick it into high gear. In the “Match of the Century” on November 1, 1938, Seabiscuit was in front of the pack and his rival War Admiral, but then in a risky move, Seabiscuit’s jockey purposefully slowed him down before the final turn so War Admiral could catch up, and as expected, once Seabiscuit locked eyes on another horse ahead of him, he cut loose and won the race by four lengths.
The reality is, we aren’t that different. The obvious parallel is with physical exercise, because you will always train harder and more consistently when you’re doing it with someone else. Sure you could get a decent workout in by yourself here and there, but it won’t be as intense as doing it with someone else. The accountability alone will cause you go that much harder, faster, and longer in any kind of workout you choose. You won’t give up as easily, because it’s easier to convince yourself it’s time to stop when there is no one else beside you. It’s not about being competitive with someone else, it’s about challenging yourself to new lengths in the presence of someone else. It’s true for all of us. Train with someone else and see what happens.
In life, it’s often the case that what’s true physically is a mere shadow of a deeper, spiritual truth. The apostle Paul writes to his young protégé, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also the life to come.” (1 Tim 4:8). The author of Hebrews also uses physical language to hit on a spiritual point, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
The Christian life has a finish line, and while no one knows when their race is up, the line is out there, somewhere, and God equips us to get there by various means of grace. Among these graces is the presence of one other, of other Christians who are running the same race. We have been wired to spiritually train harder when we’re doing it with someone else. So the question is simple:
Who are you running with?
This isn’t hypothetical, it’s a question that you should have an answer to. A name or two of those in the trenches with you, who have rights of accountability over your life and who, by their presence, push you to follow Christ and walk the path marked out for you faithfully until the end. Here’s the thing, real Christ-centered community isn’t optional for believers, and falling away from the faith is nearly always synonymous with falling away from the body of Christ. That same author of Hebrews powerfully speaks to this: “And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb 10:24-25)
Community in the 21st Century
In our day, where there is an abundance of social apps that ironically make us less social and where everything is filtered and measured, the most countercultural thing Christians can do is to let themselves be truly known by others. It will be painful at times, often messy, and it will put a heavy load on your soul, but it will strengthen you for the race that is the Christian life. Physical exercise breaks down muscles in order to strengthen them, and while we all agree that vigorous exercise is healthy, the reality is that if done right, it will be painful at times. You’ll be sucking wind at times. You won’t always want to do it. And so it is with living out in joyful obedience to Jesus Christ in community with someone else. It is for your joy, but you won’t always want to do it, and the fact is that you’ll sooner bail and drift if there is not someone beside you.
We started this blog at Grace just four months ago, and this is the second post that focuses on community and accountability. Mary wrote the first. It’s a topic that we ought to return to again and again, because in different seasons of life, we’ll be tempted to drift. Life’s busy, the kids are crazy, we just took up golfing, etc. The list of reasons to drift could go on and on, but what remains constant in any season of life is that community is vital. Don’t let community be the one thing that gets let go in the midst of life’s demands, for true community is what God gives us to get us through those demands.
Here’s the paradox. The man or woman who is a lone ranger looks like they’re out ahead, looks like everything is in order and they’re doing just “fine”, but on the final turn, they slow down and get passed up because no one has been challenging them along the way. The passion for Jesus fades, the fire in their belly is watered down, and the desire to live on mission fades. But, the man or woman who is transparent with someone else beside them, open about various weaknesses and struggles, who looks beat up because he’s honest about the struggle to persevere, he’ll finish the race strong. He’ll speed up at the final turn, he’ll be encouraged as he “sees the Day drawing near”.
So, Christian, who are you running with?